Dancing in the dark: the amazing slippery Patrick

Malcolm Redfellow

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Once upon a time, when the world (and I) were young, o best beloved, it was all so easy:
History proper commences in Ireland with the coming of St Patrick, AD432.
That's F. Kingsmill Moore, 1914, interesting as an object in itself — an Anglican cleric going against the Unionist tide and (partly) recognising Irish history as a separate development.

I wasn't invited much to question that all the way through two degrees — not, of course, that TCD and 'real' historians greatly bothered about the early stuff. Edmund Curtis (originally 1936) must have been a standard TCD text, for I have my 1960 paperback edition (12s 6d) right here. Curtis gave Patrick couple of pages:
At its request (i.e. the Church in Gaul), Pope Celestin sent one Palladius to convert Ireland in 431, but a sudden death removed him, and Patrick seemed the appointed man. The Church in Gaul consecrated him Bishop and sent him in 432 on the mission which was to fill the rest of his life. [...]

When Patrick died in old age about 461 he had laid the foundations of the Church in Ireland, but the house itself was long to build [...]

Under 440 the annals say, 'Leo was ordained bishop of Rome and Patrick was approved in the Catholic Faith'. Further proof of a papal commission we have not; it is enough that Patrick was a bishop ordained by the Church of Gaul and obeyed the call of Christ 'to go forth and teach all nations in my name'. From his Confession and what we know of the Church of his age, we cannot doubt that Patrick was a typical western Christian of his age, holding by the Latin Eucharist, the invocation of saints, the sacraments and the doctrine of the Catholic faith as held generally in his time.
J.C.Beckett (1952) could get away with a single sweeping sentence:
According to the traditional account, St Patrick landed in County Down in 432 and died in 465, and within that brief period traversed almost the whole country, establishing churches and appointing bishops and priests.
Then, in 1967, RTÉ financed Moody and Martin's The Course of Irish History. Since mine is the original edition, and the book has been serially updated, your distance may vary. The chapter on The beginnings of Christianity was delegated to Tom Fee, An t-Athair Tómas Ó Fiaich, Professor of Modern History, St Patrick's College, Maynooth (and later Cardinal).

And here start the doubts, as the historian Ó Fiaich departs from the clerical absolute to spin an extended paragraph of his doubts:
Most disputed of all the questions connected with the saint at present is the problem of giving definite dates to his Irish mission. We are certain that it began in the second or third quarter of the fifth century and lasted about thirty years. But did the saint arrive in 432 and die in 461 or did he arrive in Ireland in 456 and die about 490? The earlier dating fits better into the continental background and the saint's associations with Auxerre. The later dating agrees better with the fact that some of the saint's disciples in Ireland survived until well into the sixth century. It is this problem of dating the saint's work in Ireland which has brought forward the theory of two Patricks, a Roman missionary who came in the 430s, and a British missionary who arrived a generation later.
The essential problem is the punch-line to The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance:
When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
And that is what sources — most of them quite respectable — still do, and quite reasonably. Wikipedia quibbles.

None of this should greatly worry me. After all, there is one fact on which we can depend, as Ó Fiaich did: Patrick's epistle, #14, tells us the Franks were slave-taking pagans. Clovis converted in AD496 — so could Patrick refer to the slave-taking of the Franks after that date? So the epistle must pre-date 496, and therefore undermine the 'second Patrick' story? Christopher A. Snyder, An Age of Tyrants (1998), accepts that — so it is quite current.

But what if we cannot accept Clovis's conversion in 496-7? And that seems to be another notion: perhaps pushing the date back to 507. Re-enter the hypothetical second Patrick.

Any way, our 'knowledge' of early French history (and so the dating of Clovis) depends largely on Gregory of Tours and the fourth book of the Chronicle of Fredegar. I know we're not supposed to talk of 'The Dark Ages' any more, but relying on just those texts leaves it all pretty gloomy.

As Edward James put it:
Clovis's descendants, the Merovingians ... emerge as typical barbarians, violent, deceitful, bellicose, yet at the same time energetic, lusty and effective rulers.
And they gave up on the slaving business ... snap! ... like that?

My starters for ten here:
  • I'm interested in what, and how, other commenters were taught: was Patrick a 'definitive' figure', or at what stage in the educative or self-educative process did the mists of doubt creep in?
  • What, as others see it, is the latest on St P? Or Sts Ps?
  • Is this the ultimate object-lesson in convenient myth versus verifiable 'history'?
 
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Half Nelson

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I'm pretty sure Patrick would disown most of what's attached to his name, so exact dates and places are pretty much moot at this stage. He's been kidnapped and enslaved for a second time by monied interests and unchristian agendas.

Outside of the Christian faith, "St. Patrick" is now a catch-all slogan, not an historical figure.

But good luck in getting to the root of it all. :)
 

Talk Back

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Once upon a time, when the world (and I) were young, o best beloved, it was all so easy:

That's F. Kingsmill Moore, 1914, interesting as an object in itself — an Anglican cleric going against the Unionist tide and (partly) recognising Irish history as a separate development.

I wasn't invited much to question that all the way through two degrees — not, of course, that TCD and 'real' historians greatly bothered about the early stuff. Edmund Curtis (originally 1936) must have been a standard TCD text, for I have my 1960 paperback edition (12s 6d) right here. Curtis gave Patrick couple of pages:

J.C.Beckett (1952) could get away with a single sweeping sentence:

Then, in 1967, RTÉ financed Moody and Martin's The Course of Irish History. Since mine is the original edition, and the book has been serially updated, your distance may vary. The chapter on The beginnings of Christianity was delegated to Tom Fee, An t-Athair Tómas Ó Fiaich, Professor of Modern History, St Patrick's College, Maynooth (and later Cardinal).

And here start the doubts, as the historian Ó Fiaich departs from the clerical absolute to spin an extended paragraph of his doubts:

The essential problem is the punch-line to The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance:

And that is what sources — most of them quite respectable — still do, and quite reasonably. Wikipedia quibbles.

None of this should greatly worry me. After all, there is one fact on which we can depend, as Ó Fiaich did: Patrick's epistle, #14, tells us the Franks were slave-taking pagans. Clovis converted in AD496 — so could Patrick refer to the slave-taking of the Franks after that date? So the epistle must pre-date 496, and therefore undermine the 'second Patrick' story? Christopher A. Snyder, An Age of Tyrants (1998), accepts that — so it is quite current.

But what if we cannot accept Clovis's conversion in 496-7? And that seems to be another notion: perhaps pushing the date back to 507. Re-enter the hypothetical second Patrick.

Any way, our 'knowledge' of early French history (and so the dating of Clovis) depends largely on Gregory of Tours and the fourth book of the Chronicle of Fredegar. I know we're not supposed to talk of 'The Dark Ages' any more, but relying on just those texts leaves it all pretty gloomy.

As Edward James put it:

And they gave up on the slaving business ... snap! ... like that?

My starters for ten here:
  • I'm interested in what, and how, other commenters were taught: was Patrick a 'definitive' figure', or at what stage in the educative or self-educative process did the mists of doubt creep in?
  • What, as others see it, is the latest on St P? Or Sts Ps?
  • Is this the ultimate object-lesson in convenient myth versus verifiable 'history'?
This is more about a west-brit undermining Ireland/being Irish, than about undermining St Patrick - per se.
 

between the bridges

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I'm interested in what, and how, other commenters were taught: was Patrick a 'definitive' figure', or at what stage in the educative or self-educative process did the mists of doubt creep in?
What, as others see it, is the latest on St P? Or Sts Ps?
Is this the ultimate object-lesson in convenient myth versus verifiable 'history'?
Patrick's genocide against the native religion and culture wasn't mentioned...
 

Cruimh

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Patrick's genocide against the native religion and culture wasn't mentioned...
He certainly seems to have been a monster.....

Perhaps the most disturbing account of a saint’s reaction to pregnancy is told of the premier saint of Ireland—Patrick himself. According to his anonymous Tripartite Life, written sometime between the ninth and twelfth centuries, Patrick became enraged when Lupait, his “sister” (a term of spiritual, not biological, kinship), became pregnant. He came to her church, and she threw herself on his mercy by laying her body in supplication before his chariot and by the community’s standing cross; Patrick, however, was not appeased. Instead, he ordered his chariot to be driven over her three times, “for she still would come in front of it.”[SUP]14[/SUP] This brutal behavior is particularly perplexing, as Lupait is the one of Patrick’s five “sisters” with whom he has the most involved and intimate relationship.[SUP]15[/SUP] At one point Lupait is even described as his bride, which may help explain the severity of his reaction to her perceived betrayal.[SUP]16[/SUP]
Page 286


Of Vanishing Fetuses and Maidens Made-Again: Abortion, Restored Virginity, and Similar Scenarios in Medieval Irish Hagiography and Penitentials
Maeve B. Callan
Journal of the History of Sexuality, Volume 21, Number 2, May 2012,
pp. 282-296 (Article)
 

CatullusV

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There is a display in a museum in Tours depicting Gregory and St Patrick. Saint Gregory is an interesting character in the sense of his canonisation. He was a Roman soldier who on seeing a beggar in Tours cut his cape in half and gave one half to him. That night Jesus appeared to him in a dream and said that he was that beggar. All very explainable; he had dreamt about something which had happened that very day. We also only have his word for it.

It doesn't really stand up.

In the dim and distant past I read a theory suggesting three Patricks.
 

Mitsui2

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This is more about a west-brit undermining Ireland/being Irish, than about undermining St Patrick - per se.
You can tell when a man has a real hobbyhorse because everything he sees starts to look like a stable.
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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Any relation to T.C. Kingsmill Moore?
I'd assume so. "T.C" was the Visitor to TCD right through the 1960s.

"T.C." was son of Canon Henry Kingsmill Moore, who ran the CoI College of Education from the 1880s down to the 1920s. Without doing a family genealogy (the Kingsmill Moores are still found in the wild), I can see obvious linkages.

Despite Talk Back's sneer (post #4) they were another of the families who served their nation (define that as one will) gracefully and well. However, I accept his reproof: what right has a good British?/Scottish? lad like Patrick to interfere in matters exclusively Irish?

As for Kingsmill Moore's little book, I fail to see much wrong with putting into the hands and minds of the young what was, for pre-WW1, a balanced first history.

Cruimh's further post on Lupait, a.k.a. Lupita, possibly also Liamain, isn't quite the authorised version in Canon John O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints. There's a rip from O'Hanlon on Lupait here. Meanwhile O'Hanlon did a proper job on Patrick himself.
 

GDPR

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In answer to first question, the tales of St Patrick were introduced to us at primary school, along with those of Cú Chulainn.

We found the latter much more entertaining and plausible.
 

Casablanca

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St Patrick has a lot to answer for, not least for encourage ejects to pin bits of clover to their jackets, thereby ruining the construction, fashion value and the appearance of said individuals

 

Half Nelson

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He certainly seems to have been a monster.....



Page 286


Of Vanishing Fetuses and Maidens Made-Again: Abortion, Restored Virginity, and Similar Scenarios in Medieval Irish Hagiography and Penitentials
Maeve B. Callan
Journal of the History of Sexuality, Volume 21, Number 2, May 2012,
pp. 282-296 (Article)
"written sometime between the ninth and twelfth centuries" - a collection of fantastical stories mixed with bits of truth.
Don't bet the house on it. ;)
 

eoghanacht

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I read one time that what came down to our ancestors as Patrick wasn't a name but a title from the Latin and Greek pater/patêr.

Same as Patrician, a male figure head.
 

eoghanacht

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"written sometime between the ninth and twelfth centuries" - a collection of fantastical stories mixed with bits of truth.
Don't bet the house on it. ;)


Says he with the Bible
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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"written sometime between the ninth and twelfth centuries" - a collection of fantastical stories mixed with bits of truth.
Don't bet the house on it.
We weren't.

But it raises a question (and potentially a competition): what ranks as the earliest spot-on dating in Irish history? For obvious reasons I'm suggesting the Annals of the Four Masters, and Noah's grand-daughter Ceasair arriving in Bantry Bay forty days before the Great Flood of Anno Mundi 2242 (so 1742 BC?) might not quite fulfil the requirement.

I recall being 'taught' that the landing of C. Julius Caesar, probably at Walmer in Kent, on 27 August 55BC, was the oldest-proven absolute date in British history. And that 'history' began for the Egyptians in 4236BC.

Obviously I'm assuming a documentary record — and that generally means something regal or dynastic or — most likely — military.
 


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